Croydon's suspect treatment

By Geoffrey Alderman, May 6, 2011

On February 25, I commented here on the weird, not to say alarming, goings-on at the Croydon Synagogue that is a branch of the Federation of Synagogues.

The worthy congregants of Croydon (or at any rate some 28 of them) decided that they could no longer tolerate the presence in their synagogue of their minister, the Reverend David Gilinksy.

They therefore lodged with the Federation's Beth Din an allegation to the effect that Mr Gilinksy's very presence in this particular house of worship was "detrimental" to its "ongoing existence."

Mr Gilinsky meanwhile gave notice that he intended to relinquish his appointment on August 29 next. This was not soon enough for the Croydon petitioners, who persisted with their petition, which the Beth Din upheld.

By order of the dayanim (one of whom, incidentally, was specially bussed in from Gateshead to hear the case) Rev Gilinksy was stripped of his ministerial position and prohibited, if not from actually setting foot in the synagogue then certainly from attending "any services" held under its auspices.

Mrs Gilinsky was told she'd have to pay a £250 deposit to defend herself

In commenting on these matters, I noted the seriousness of the judgment and I expressed the hope that the dayanim would make public the halachic grounds on which they had based their decree.

I must now report that not only has my hope remained unfulfilled but that the Beth Din has taken a further step, which seems to me to call for the attention - unprecedented though that may be - of the Federation's lay leadership.

On March 24, the Beth Din informed Mrs Gilinksy that, without her knowledge, it had deigned to consider a representation from the president of the Croydon synagogue, Anthony Bond, and that, without giving her the rights commonly granted to defendants (such as the right to defend herself), it had decided to prohibit her from attending the synagogue for any purpose.

Moreover - declared the Federation Beth Din - the Croydon community had its permission, "to invoke any authority that they need to support this ban including the right to prosecute for any trespass."

At this point, I need to clarify certain matters on which I have, quite understandably, been quizzed by JC readers. As a Federation member, I have consistently refused to take sides in the various issues of substance that have caused the rift between the Croydon membership and the Gilinskys. I can tell you that, at a meeting of the Federation Council on March 13, its president, Alan Finlay, made it crystal clear that Mr Gilinksy had committed no heinous crime (indeed no crime at all) and that no major incident had precipitated the Beth Din judgment. Rather (it would appear), he and the community had simply failed to bond.

Since I personally do not know the precise details of the complaints of which Rev Gilinsky was the object, I am afraid I can throw no further light on them. I certainly cannot say one way or the other whether they were justified. But at least Mr Gilinsky had, and exercised, the right to defend himself.

This cannot be said of his wife. The March 24 letter referred to her alleged behaviour both in the synagogue building and in a public place, and to the existence of a "witness statement", apparently authored by a police officer.

I can accept that, in an emergency, any court of law might come to an interim judgment without having heard both sides, pending a full hearing. On this assumption, Mrs Gilinsky asked for such a full hearing. She was told that, in order for this to happen - in order for her to exercise her right to defend herself and to face her accuser(s) - she would have to pay a "deposit" of £250!

Which of us would tolerate for one moment a situation in which a court of law had, without notice, tried us in absentia, had failed utterly to afford us the basic right to defend ourselves, and had found us guilty?

I have had it put to me that what is different about Mrs Gilinsky's case is that the Beth Din had before it a statement by a police officer. So what? Statements by police officers are frequently challenged. In an English court of law, a police statement has very little if any greater significance that a statement signed by you or me. And the author of it is of course subject to cross-examination.

Mrs Gilinksy has now invoked the Data Protection Act, and has demanded from the Federation a complete copy of her file. Its contents should make interesting reading.

Last updated: 2:41pm, May 6 2011